First published on Progressonline
They said it couldn’t be done, that moderate Labour supporters could never be persuaded to pay £25 for a vote in the leadership election. But this week, from a standing start, Saving Labour – and all those who fell in behind – galvanised the moderate wing of the Labour party and recruited a historic number of Labour voters to the party fold. 183,000 people used the party’s fledgling Registered Supporters scheme to get a vote in the forthcoming leadership election. Reports suggest that between 34 and 40 per cent are those wanting a credible opposition. More than anyone could have hoped for if the number got into six figures. And that was well before reports of 40,000 duplications – much more likely to be Jeremy Corbyn voters – were deducted from that number.
Momentum and its friends in hard-left and far-left groups had a clear advantage. The vast majority of people who become Registered Supporters last summer were for Corbyn, and, if reports are to be believed, so were the 128,000 who joined after the Brexit referendum. This available pool of a quarter of a million people, plus the tried-and-tested Stop the War and People’s Assembly email lists, meant there was a real chance that the numbers would be higher still. Maybe, just maybe, we have reached ‘peak-Corbyn’.
Go back 10 days and all wings of the party were waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the National Executive Committee. Would Corbyn need to show any parliamentary support in a party which was founded by the trade unions and the Fabian Society in order to find a parliamentary route to socialism? In a decision which ignored 120 years of history, including the precedent set by Corbyn when he was running Tony Benn’s challenger campaign in 1988, the National Executive Committee opted to put the MP for Islington North straight on the ballot paper. What followed were the equally bizarre decisions to raise the Registered Supporters’ rate to £25 and restrict the window for sign-ups to 48 hours. I agree with James Morris, that if it had been open for longer and been cheaper, this would have increased involvement and dwarfed Corbyn’s advantage.
Either way, the decision was made, the match was set. And, in a way that we have not seen for a long, long time, moderates across the party worked together to get on the front foot. Saving Labour printed leaflets, posters and sign-up sheets. Red tablecloths were dug out of back draws and old clipboards were dusted off. Almost like that feeling you get before you start phone-canvassing – I hate the idea of it until I pick up the phone and get through to someone who does not tell me to f-off – it is safe to say there was a level of trepidation about doing street stalls.
‘More positive than anything we did for the EU referendum’, reported one of the stall organisers in north Wales. ‘People wanted to talk politics, about Labour and what was happening in parliament’, said another in Yorkshire. The tone of surprise was common among those who took the leap of faith and pitched up with a trestle table and #SavingLabour leaflets. Most major cities had at least one. From Bangor or Brighton, Exeter to Newcastle, moderates found their confidence again and a constituency for it in the Labour-voting public.
Over 83 street stalls happened over the Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and the activity lead to an upturn in requests for leaflets and people volunteering to flyer their local train station or shopping mall. On Wednesday morning a report from campaigner in Telford that eight people had sign uped up on his iPad and all his leaflets had been taken.
There is still all to play for in the long and gruelling leadership race. The focus must now turn to persuading Labour members and trade unionists of the case for an effective opposition that could become a transformative government. There is no certainty about the outcome, but for the first time in a while there is hope that this great party might yet have a future.